Thursday, May 29, 2008

Actually Lying

"As I worked closely with President Bush, I would come to believe that sometimes he convinces himself to believe what suits his needs at the moment. It is not unlike a witness in court who does not want to implicate himself in wrongdoing, but is also concerned about perjuring himself. So he says, 'I do not recall.' The witness knows no one can get into his head and prove it is not true, so this seems like a much safer course than actually lying. Bush, similarly, has a way of falling back on the hazy memory defense to protect himself from potential political embarrassment. Bush rationalizes it as being acceptable because he is not stating unequivocally anything that could be proven false. If something later is uncovered to show what he knew, then he can deny lying in his own mind."

Scott McClellan. What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deceit

Umm... since when is pretending not to remember something to get out of saying it not "actually lying?" The idea that a falsehood is only "actually lying" if it can be proven without resorting to a psychic or a polygraph is a new one to me. But perhaps this is what lead the administration into trouble. If, even now, McClellan can't bring himself to characterize making ANY statement one knows to be false an "actual lie," it's easy to see how he went along to get along at the time.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Haven't we seen this story before?

If this is the same kid who made a break for it last year, he must really be desperate, after being placed on a year's probation - last July. To risk time in juvenile detention rather than wait another sixty days seems pretty hard up to get to Texas. Either that, or perhaps more likely, he discounted the idea that he'd be caught or that his grandfather would send him back.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Now Playing

Not being that much of a movie buff, I wasn't planning to go out and see "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." But, this being the United States, and the movie being positioned as the Big Spring Blockbuster™, you'd have to live under a very large rock to keep it from seeping into your consciousness. And so, I came to learn that this time around, the Evil Enemy™ are the Communists.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Russian Communists are upset about the way Communists are portrayed, calling the movie "crude anti-Soviet propaganda" and calling for the film to be banned in Russia. In a similar vein, the government of Myanmar wasn't very happy about the latest "Rambo" movie. (Burmese dissidents, apparently, were.)

I guess this is a side effect of the fact that Hollywood pretty much rules the worldwide movie industry. American movies that vilify this government or that movement are slammed by aggrieved parties. But you almost never hear anything about foreign movies that cast the United States as the faceless and cartoonish villains. Gary Busey and Billy Zane took a little heat for playing evil Americans in "Kurtlar vadisi - Irak" (Valley of the Wolves: Iraq, in English), but it's unlikely that very many Americans have heard of the film. (And then, it seems mainly because Gary Busey [who plays a particularly nasty Jewish-American doctor] is well-known enough that the criticism of him got around.) It's interesting that "Bigotry" is listed as a Plot Keyword in the movie's IMDB listing - along with other winners such as "Racial Prejudice," "Ignorance," "Lies," "Anti Americanism," "Racist" and "Anti-Semitism" but these are all likely placed there by aggrieved viewers, rather than being an official government stance. The movie doesn't have an American rating (according to IMDB), so it apparently was never released in the United States, although the BBC said that a US release was planned.

There have to be more foreign movies out there that deal with the United States. Maybe we'd understand a little more about how the rest of the world understands us if we were exposed to them every so often.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It Sucks MORE To Be ME

Okay, quiz time. Multiple choice:

1 Which group faces more hurdles and discrimination in life, and a more marked reduction in "life chances?"
2. Which group has been so oppressed, so put down and so excluded from the Halls of Power (TM) that they are singularly deserving of having one of their number hold the Presidency of the United States of America?
3. A member of which group cannot be elected to the White House, because America "isn't ready?"

Possible answers:
A. African Americans
B. Women

Something tells me it's time to start betting on President McCain. It's been said that the Republicans have been assembling thousands of pages of dirt on whomever the Democratic nominee turns out to be (smart money is still on Obama). As near as I can see, it would be a complete waste of time. At the rate things are going, no matter what happens, it seems that a pretty sizable chunk of the supporters of the losing candidate are going to feel victimized by people who didn't vote for the "right" candidate. All the Republicans are going to have to do is continue the conflict between African-Americans and women over who's been victimized more over the years, and Senator Obama (yes, I'm calling the election for him - it's not like I'm going out on a limb here) will go from being a symbol of American strides against racism to a symbol of an entrenched and intractable sexism. Couple that with a revival of the "Southern Strategy," and chalk up another President in the "R" column. And you know that the Republicans will revive the Southern Strategy - although it might wind up being re-branded as the Appalachian Strategy, given the primary results from West Virginia and Kentucky. If there is any chance of it making the difference between winning and losing a state, they'd be idiots not to. Being a good sport is laudable, but playing to win is smarter.

So, McCain wins in November, and the Clinton and Obama die-hards start pointing fingers, and "the Man" (whomever that is) wins in the way that the Man always does - by playing his enemies off against one another. And African-Americans and Women continue to squabble over the right to regard themselves as the bigger victim. Not only is the fight over who's been victimized more unwinnable, it's pointless and toxic. It's also predicated on the bizarre assumption that other a victory for one group is a win for EVERYONE, while a victory for the other group is simply oppressive business as usual. It's past time it ended.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Obnoxious Pander of the Week

"It shows naivety and inexperience and lack of judgment to say he wants to sit down across the table from an individual (President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) who leads a country (Iran) that says that Israel is a stinking corpse."
Senator John McCain (R - Arizona) "Obama, McCain trade blows after Bush's 'appeasement' remarks"
The idea that sitting down and negotiating with hostile nations is somehow a bad idea on its face is utterly moronic. My impression of Senator McCain is that he's smarter than that - especially since the only alternative is doing nothing until the feces hit the fan, and then going to war. The idea, advanced by President Bush (although not him alone) that negotiating with hostile governments adds an unacceptable degree of legitimacy to their interests takes subjective moral judgment to the last place it has any business being - international politics. McCain has always come off as being more pragmatic than that, and as too much of a straight talker to indulge in the pretense that American political moralizing tends to entail.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Can We Stop Now?

The best reason ever not to be concerned with terrorist "threats."

"Real terrorists don't write letters; they just kill you."
Josef Joffe "Here's How America Looks to the World"
In many ways, al-Qaeda is literally phoning it in. They've barely bothered to blow up to a henhouse in the years since the destruction of the World Trade Center, but half the country still seems to be running around like headless chickens anyway.

For many people, that becomes a compelling argument that the common narrative of what happened back in 2001 is a thinly veiled, government-perpetrated fraud, set in motion to justify military adventurism (itself simply barely disguised resource theft in the minds of some) and a totalitarian-lite assault on civil liberties. (Say what you want, the Feds have nothing on Burma.) And you can make the argument that if we hadn't bothered with Iraq, the "bad guys" would have missed the chance to add another several thousand Americans and Iraqis to the body count.

But it's just as likely that Osama bin-Laden and company are sitting in cave in Outer Buttcrackistan, sipping tea and laughing themselves silly at how they've managed to scare the living daylights out of what was supposed to be the most powerful nation on the face of the planet. We're spending ourselves into a thousand years of debt, and convincing half the planet that we're completely out of our minds. The Dollar's been falling faster than bowling ball dropped from Low Earth Orbit, but the feeding frenzy of foreign tourists one might expect hasn't materialized, in part because two European guys with slightly dark skin and a camera who've never been on a ferryboat before can prompt the FBI into kicking off a multinational manhunt. (Note the the ferry people and the FBI - about 90% of the United States has never been on a ferry either, and might find them interesting. Just so you know.)

It's time that we quit jumping at shadows. We've got better things to do.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Right Side of Seattle

Seattle comes across, to many people, pretty liberal place. It's pretty easy to argue Washington is a Blue State because of the very high percentage of Democratic voters in Seattle and its immediate suburban area. (You see a similar pattern in many states with large urban populations that completely dwarf the demographics of the rest of the state.) But, no matter what anyone says, Seattle isn't "completely" liberal. Like any place, it has its share of conservatives - even if they are few in numbers. To give you an example, I've mentioned before the groups of people that get together on Saturday mornings in Lake Forest park, to demonstrate either in support of the troops (and to a lesser degree, the administration) or to end the war and to criticize the administration. One day, when I actually counted heads, I found the that end the war crowd outnumbered the support the troops crowd by about five to one.

Many of them, to pass the time, it seems, hang out on the Seattle Post Intelligencer's Sound Off pages, making bitter and mean-spirited comments, and complaining every time they feel that the newspaper, or it's readership is being too liberal for their tastes - which is quite often. There are several regulars, some of which are probably more accurately labeled "trolls," who spend a lot of time making nasty comments about even trivial topics. There is a lot of heat, but very little light, which is a shame. Convinced that they won't be listened to - and often seeming to put a lot of energy into ensuring just that - they rarely post anything enlightening or thoughtful - settling instead for knee-jerk Limbaugh-esque invective, being quick to point out problems and make ad-hominem attacks on other posters, but rarely offering anything by the way of actionable or verifiable information. There are also a lot of anonymous posts that exhibit many of the same characteristics, but without having set usernames attached to them.

Not to say that they are the only ones. They have their counterparts on the other side of the political divide. But with the larger community on the political left, the flamers and trolls don't generate the appearance of representing most of the group.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Bot Kicking

"Sticks and stones may break my drones, but they can't hurt me."
William Saletan. "I, LawnBott" Human Nature, the Blog. Slate Magazine, Thursday, May 08, 2008.
As Mr. Saletan points out, the military uses drones as a way of being present, but without having someone there who can get hurt. The creator of "BumBot" applies the same logic - sort of. Rather than driving the thing around remotely from the safety of his business, he walks around behind it. But the same general idea does seem to apply - people target the "robot" instead of him, so it collects all the dings and scratches.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Pushing Safety

A survey says that 81 percent of parents in Britain don't allow their children to ride their bicycles freely. That's too bad. I remember all the time that used to spend riding my bike. If nothing else, I was in MUCH better shape then than I am now.

I found this tidbit to be interesting - although only 3 percent of parents surveyed knew someone who'd been in an accident, 36 percent of them claimed safety as the reason why they restricted their children's cycling. (Although I doubt that there is 100 percent overlap there.) What strikes me as interesting about these numbers is the idea that people are much more careful about their children than they are about themselves. If roughly three times the number of people who knew someone who'd been in an automobile accident swore off driving, would there be any personal automobiles left on the roads in many places? Even if you started from people who knew someone who'd been killed in a car crash, there would be significant reduction in driving.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

We Knew That

When does pointing out an obvious and extreme imbalance of power between two nations become a de-facto threat? Let's face it, the United States COULD "obliterate" Iran. I'm pretty sure that we've got a large enough nuclear arsenal to make the entire country (and most of the surrounding area) uninhabitable for the next twenty million or so years. And while Iran and Iraq fought each other to a standstill throughout most of the 1980's, the United States military crushed the Iraqi army seemingly overnight (in what was jokingly termed by one commentator "Operation Almighty Ass-Kicking"). Of course that might mean letting Iraq free-fall into Chaos...

So now the Democratic candidates are sparring over whether or not bluntly stating what any 12-year-old could tell you is a form of "Cowboy Diplomacy." Yawn.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Not With the Bridges Again

The practice of making sex offenders live under bridges has spread from Florida to Washington State. A sex offender who is currently being sought for cutting off his ankle monitor and going underground had been living under a bridge, because the Washington State Department of Corrections couldn't find another place for him to live. While parole officer Mary Rehburg seems to have no problem with saying that David Torrence had been ordered to spend his nights under the bridge ("Under a bridge is the best of the options we had left."), with a rain poncho and a sleeping bag, Anna Aylward, the Department of Correction's program administrator instead characterizes it as "permitting" him to live out in the open.

One of these things is not like the other. But what strikes me as interesting about this story is that the fact that Torrence was living under a bridge didn't come to light until after Westneat's column came out. While I suppose that you could make the case that where he had been living had no bearing on the fact that he'd gone on the lam, I do think the fact that the Department of Corrections is sending people to live under bridges is newsworthy, especially since as Westneat rightly points out: "It's about the worst outcome possible, for public safety." And if this is a dubious idea in Florida, it doesn't make any more sense here. Being a native of Chicago, I tend to scoff at the Seattle brand of "cold." But the rainy season here lasts for a good 6 to 8 months, and while it's not a steady downpour or anything like that, I don't imagine that it's pleasant to be out in night after night. Sounds like a sentence to death from pneumonia, or something equally unpleasant.

I suspect that sooner or later, someone is going to accuse me of having more sympathy for perpetrators than victims for advocating for a better solution. But I do think that poor work re-integrating people leads to higher recidivism rates. Sentencing people to lives of quiet desperation may make some people feel better about sticking to the "bad guys," but it's got such a poor track record, I'm amazed that anyone still sees it as a credible option anymore. News coverage tends to paint Torrence as someone who doesn't want to do his time, or is looking to re-offend. But it also seems pretty likely that he just wants to find a warm place to spend his nights.